A Socioecological Systems View of Urban Green Spaces for Evaluating Use and Equity

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Principal Investigator: 
Christopher Lepczyk, Auburn University
Charles Nilon, University of Missouri
Associated Program: 


Urban green spaces comprise a range of types from remnant patches of native vegetation to highly engineered green infrastructure, such as bioswales and green roofs. Urban green spaces are also critical components of cities for urbanites, as they provide opportunities for people to interact, recreate, and connect with nature. While urban green spaces represent important places for people and nature, their distribution relative to each other and across a city may be unequal, and they may be changing over time, representing a source of inequality for urban populations. In addition, not all green spaces are created equally, such that the type and quality of green may vary across a city. Although our knowledge about urban green spaces has markedly increased in regard to ecology, health, sociology, leisure science, and environmental justice over the past decade, there remains a lack of basic conceptual syntheses that brings together these disciplines in a synthetic manner that advances both theory and the field in regards to equitability, access, and use of urban green spaces. In addition, the perspective and experience of green space managers and advocates are missing from the academic literature urban green spaces. Thus, a problem of timely need is: How can we unify disciplines in viewing and conceptualizing urban green spaces and how does this relate to use and access of urban green spaces? To address this topic our workshop seeks to bring together an interdisciplinary team of participants to: 1) develop a conceptual socioecological systems model of urban green spaces; 2) test this conceptual model using parks in U.S. cities as our model green space type through a synthesis of existing data; 3) develop outreach and peer-reviewed products based on the conceptual model and data synthesis; and 4) develop a proposal to evaluate how the dynamism of migration and climate change may affect future green spaces, their ecology, and who can access them.


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